Quicken 2012
Quicken 2012

Best personal accounting software

Intuit's Quicken personal finance software is the clear industry leader, experts say. Quicken links to far more financial institutions than any other software package and has more advanced features. Quicken 2012 has some added features over previous versions; reviewers praise the improved budgeting function and say the software is easier to set up and use. The Deluxe version (*Est. $35) is best for those who want detailed tracking of checking, savings, bill payment, budgeting and 401(k) or IRA accounts. Quicken Premier (*Est. $50) is a better choice for those who have complex investments or own property.
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Alternative personal accounting software

Experts say Moneydance offers all the features Quicken does except the financial-planning tools -- without the annoying ads. It includes a backup utility so you can set up automatic backups and store data, and you can also encrypt data for added security. A free trial download lets you manually input 100 transactions and import an unlimited number, so you can see for yourself whether Moneydance meets your needs.
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*Est. $50 Estimated Price
You Need A Budget 4
You Need A Budget 4

Budgeting and debt-management software

If you need help sticking to a budget and paying down debt, experts say You Need A Budget (YNAB) will help many people design and stick to a budget, reduce debt and accumulate savings. Users find the software easy to set up and use, and customer support is reported to be excellent. YNAB 4 includes a revamped interface, plus a host of new features, including the ability to sync your financials across devices, new income and spending reports, and more organizational tools. YNAB doesn't automatically download transactions or track investments, unlike other financial software. Its initial cost is higher than other options, but you can get a free 34-day trial, and it comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee and free support.
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*Est. $60 Estimated Price
AceMoney Lite
AceMoney Lite

Free personal accounting software

AceMoney Lite is a free, open-source personal finance application rated highly by reviewers. It provides most of the features found in purchased personal finance programs, including budgeting, analysis of spending habits, online banking and multi-currency transactions. Reviewers particularly praise its friendly interface and ease of use. AceMoney Lite supports only two accounts, however, so you'll have to upgrade to the full version of AceMoney (*Est. $40) if you need to track more than that.
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See a side-by-side comparison of key features, product specs, and prices.

Quicken is alone at the top

The biggest advantage of using accounting software to manage your personal finances is the ability to house all of your information in one place. This allows you to see how much you have, how much you owe and even when you owe it. You can also get a customized view of your complete financial position without having to log in separately to all the bank and investment websites that hold financial information for you. (If you're interested in managing your money online, read our report on personal finance sites, which covers free services like Mint.com, Buxfer.com and Learnvest.com.)

Another advantage is that personal accounting software will store your financial information for as long as you want, so you don't have to file paper statements. It can thus serve as long-term storage for easy tracking of spending by category. You can create budgets and do long-term goal planning, as well as create custom mini-reports, get tax advice and save scanned documents.

However, the software doesn't do everything for you. You still have to set it up, which can take a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the complexity of your financial information and how detailed you want to get. Though you can download a lot of information from financial sites, you'll still need to enter some transactions manually.

We did not find many comparative reviews of the latest versions of personal accounting software, most of which were released fairly recently. Only TopTenReviews.com and FinanceSoftwareStore.com have thorough reviews that compare Quicken 2012, Moneydance 2010 and less well-known financial software packages. User reviews at Amazon.com provide a glimpse of the pros and cons of Quicken 2012, including upgrade trials and tribulations, from a firsthand perspective. They also rate alternative financial accounting software You Need A Budget. About.com, PC World and CNET offer single-product reviews, and About.com offers several overviews of the software available for specific segments of the market, such as those who use Macs. A few other sites, including PersonalFinanceReviews.com, FiscalGeek.com and GetRichSlowly.com, offer reviews and user comments that are worth a look.

Personal finance sites

The alternative to desktop software is using online services, such as Mint.com, to track your finances. The advantage is that these sites do most of the work for you; in exchange, you have to provide the login information for the accounts you'd like to track. Quicken now owns Mint.com and discontinued its competing free service, Quicken Online.

See our report on personal finance sites for more about Mint.com and other free online services. In addition, many banks and brokerages offer financial management tools on their websites.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Personal Accounting Software

Free Personal Accounting Software

Buying Guide

Our Sources

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